Australia's NBN gets another $1.5B to build out full fiber

The Australian government is tipping more cash into the NBN, announcing an investment of 2.4 billion Australian dollars (US$1.5 billion) over the next four years.

The new funding will enable an additional 1.5 million homes and businesses now connected by fiber to the node (FTTN) to upgrade to fiber to the premises (FTTP).

That includes 660,000 premises in rural Australia and means around 10 million homes and businesses across Australia will have access to top download speeds of around 1 Gbit/s by late 2025, the government said.

The funding will take the form of an equity investment in state-owned NBN Co.

The recently elected government did not miss the opportunity to take a swipe at its predecessor, describing its administration of the NBN as "a masterclass in technological incompetence and financial mismanagement, causing Australia to trail other developed countries on broadband quality and speeds."

"Whilst this cannot be undone overnight, it's essential we get this repair job underway," the government statement said.

Research commissioned by NBN Co said the economic impact of upgrading an additional 1.5 million premises to FTTP connections could add A$20 billion ($12.6 billion) to the GDP by 2030.

The Labor Party, which won office in May, had set up the NBN in 2009 as a 93% fiber network. But the conservative government elected four years later declared that fiber was too costly and reduced the level of full fiber to around a fifth, making up the difference with HFC, DSL copper and fixed wireless.

Cash for 5G FWA

Australia ranks 71st in fixed broadband in the latest Speedtest Global Index, 55 places behind neighboring New Zealand.

This is the not the first time the federal government has splashed cash on the NBN this year.

In March, the previous government committed A$480 million ($303 million) to boosting FWA and remote satellite services to up to 1 million rural premises. NBN Co, which contributed A$270 million ($170 million) to the scheme, said it would use the funds to "5G-enable" its FWA infrastructure.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.

The latest injection of funds comes as NBN Co is part way through its own program of upgrading from FTTN to FTTP. It is targeting 2 million premises, estimating it will complete around 550,000 by year-end.

More than 8.5 million Australian homes and businesses were connected to the NBN at 30 June 2022, with another 3.6 million ready to connect.

However, just 18% of NBN customers were on wholesale plans offering download speeds of 100 Mbit/s or above.

The NBN Co, which was established with A$27 billion ($17 billion) in federal government loans, recorded revenues of A$5.1 billion ($3.2 billion) in the last financial year, up 10% over the previous year, with EBITDA of A$3.1 billion ($2 billion).

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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